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Profit Percentages

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Sam Lesante Jr.
Profit Percentages
on May 11, 2012 at 7:09:02 pm

Hi fellow cows,

I posted this in the Indie Doc forum but maybe you guys can give me some insight too :)

Is there a standard % that is suitable for the "talent" in your doc?

I am already giving 15% to the company for which my subject works for. I think giving him 15% would also be a good amount. This would be the % given from DVD sales once my initial expenses have been reimbursed.




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Todd Terry
Re: Profit Percentages
on May 11, 2012 at 9:37:28 pm

Personally, I would never pay talent a percentage unless the were a must-have actor in a substantial/lead role...and they (or their agent) insisted on it. I'd much rather pay talent whatever their day rate is for a job and be done with it.

If you offer a percentage of the profits of a project, the thing is that most films never make a profit at all, ergo the talent gets bupkus... which is not fair to them. Even many successful films usually manage to find a way to wind up with no actual "profit" on paper. Just ask people like Paul Haggis, who wrote and directed "Crash" for well under $10M, sold almost $100M in tickets, yet managed to have no "profit" and he personally didn't make a dime on it (although he does have the pleasure of polishing his Academy Awards).

Conversely, if you give an actor a big chunk (and 15% of the back end would be considered huge... Brad Pitt can't even command those kinds of percentages, not nearly) then you may be giving away the store.

Then again, these are the way most narrative projects like features work. You said "doc." That changes things a bit. A lot of hardcore documentarians would consider films to be journalism, and in the journalism world it's considered bad form to pay subjects at all... unless you're talking down at the tabloid level.

So it's really hard to say, not knowing any more than we do about your project. But again, personally I would go for a flat payment, not a percentage.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Scott Sheriff
Re: Profit Percentages
on May 12, 2012 at 5:33:10 pm

I have to agree with Todd.
If I read your post correctly, you want to give away 30% for just the talent? Is that for an 'A' list celeb, or is there nudity? Because it seems a bit pricey. If it's for the local freelancing news anchor, or typical local actor picked out of a headshot catalog, I think you are way overpaying. If this is all to avoid paying a flat day rate up front, due to lack of cash, I'd rethink that. If your trying to hedge your bet because you don't know how well this will sell, I still think your better off paying a flat rate. No matter how you look at it, your talking about giving away 30% of the profit. If it's only a small profit, or a huge one, it's still 30%!
Maybe if the talent has some unique insight on the subject that no one else has, or special background knowledge and are using that to contributing in other ways such as writing, and perhaps securing unobtainable locations. And probably not even then.
The world is full of people that want to be in front of the lens. Unless the entire concept hinges on this one person as the talent, I'd keep shopping.

Scott Sheriff

"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur." ---Red Adair

Where were you on 6/21?

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Sam Lesante Jr.
Re: Profit Percentages
on May 14, 2012 at 3:15:35 pm

Thanks guys for the input.

Let me give you some more info. This is my first doc. and I kinda of did it "bass-ackwards" :)

Initially, I met with the guy I wanted to do the doc on. He agreed, the company agreed and we went from there on a hand shake. I wanted to get all the paperwork out of the way before I shot but it was taking so long just to get a response back from his employers and there was valuable time wasting so I decided just to go ahead and start following him around and recording him without any paperwork or contracts.

So now, I have one more shoot in July with him when he goes to visit his family in Canada.

After that, I will be editing it and hopefully selling dvd's by christmas time.

So basically, right now all I have as far as paperwork is a contract from his employer giving me the right to use their logos and his likeness ( he's a mascot BTW :) and a few releases of the people I interviewed.

So, thinking out loud here, there's really nothing on paper that gives his company or him any right to and %. Now could this bite me in the a** later?

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Mark Suszko
Re: Profit Percentages
on May 14, 2012 at 4:15:35 pm

Before you shoot another frame, get something down in writing and signed.

For docs, some give their material/interview for free, others get an "honorarium". Calling it an honorarium allows it to sound cool even if it is a pittance, but more importantly, what it does is help create a binding contractual obligation, when you exchange "consideration" (money) for the product (giving the interview).

Note that serious docs make a distinction between "compensated" and "non-compensated" inteviews, for the purists.

You should offer an honorarium at least equal to a day's pay for the guy, to recompense him for his time, for any of the sit-down segments. I would not compensate for just following him around shooting what he does, unless it materially interferes with him doing his business, whatever that is.

The honorarium is a one-time payment. A square guy would pay it the same day or week the interview happens. I guess it would be okay to wait until the rough cut is done, but I personally would get the honorarium sent out earlier, whenever possible. Don't make the guy have to invoice you for it, that's very gauche.

The check and accompanying letter for the honorarium should state that this was in consideration for his participation in the xyz documentary on so and so dates. No further compensation is inferred or implied. Just a hearty hand-shake.

Don't offer or discuss percentages. The other guys have ably descriebd why not. There is no upside to you doing that. If the doc becomes a hit, then go back and give the guy whatever your conscience thinks is fair. But the legal obligation should end with the honorarium.

If you can't afford to give the guy an honorarium and he deserves one, you're doing something wrong. You need to raise that money somehow, just as you do to rent the gear to physically shoot. The big difference between pros and amateurs is really about this kind of thing, and not about the technical stuff like cameras. It is about doing business in a true busisness-like manner, as grown-ups do. We hate that part but we must accept and embrace it as part of the deal, and not just concentrate on being an artist. The artist that doesn't manage the business half of the equation is just a dilettante. Look up the definition, it means you only work with the fun, cool parts of something and shirk the more mundane aspects. Worse than that, it means your work doesn't really get seen by anybody, it won't make any kind of impact or difference in the world.

That's why it is called show business.

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Sam Lesante Jr.
Re: Profit Percentages
on May 14, 2012 at 4:19:32 pm

Thanks Mark. This really helps me out alot.

I appreciate everyone's input.

BTW, here's a rough cut trailer from it :)

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